from The Internationalist and International Institutions and Global Governance Program

Middle East Turmoil Will Greet Opening of UN General Assembly

September 14, 2012

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This week, foreign policy took center stage in the presidential campaign, and it appears that it may stay in the conversation for Candidate Romney and President Obama next week as well. Listen to The World Next Week podcast, where Bob McMahon and I discuss the attack in Libya that killed four U.S. embassy personnel, the opening session of the sixty-seventh UN General Assembly, and the improvements of the Human Rights Council:

  • The attack in Libya and the tragic death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens is but one symptom of the herculean challenge of consolidating security in the aftermath of the Libyan revolution last year. Militias have refused to disarm; the country remains awash in weapons and some observers even suggest that Libya continues to be on the verge of civil war. These unchecked arms flows are fueling violence throughout the Sahel region, Mali, and perhaps even the Sinai peninsula. Romney has criticized the United States for being behind the curve on reacting to tumult in the Middle East and North Africa, and for leading from behind, notes Bob McMahon—a condemnation which is sure to be debated in the coming week.
  • The UN General Assembly opens next week, and Palestine will again be in the headlines. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), has announced that he will pursue non-member observer state status at the UN General Assembly. The United States has vigorously pressured them not to—and to instead pursue bilateral talks with Israel to resolve the territorial dispute. Alternatively, the PA could repeat its effort to join specialized UN agencies. U.S. legislation requires the United States to cut off funding for any organization that Palestine joins as an equal member state. A successful bid might therefore put the United States in a position of having to cut off its nose to spite its face if Palestine joins, for example, the International Atomic Energy Agency or World Intellectual Property Organization.
  • The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has enjoyed a partial renaissance over the last two years. It had been vilified for being a “den of abusers,” but the Obama administration touts its increasing balance and utility as a success of its engagement with the body. Meanwhile, Romney has signaled that he would withdraw from the HRC.


Listen to the podcast to learn more about the agenda for the UN General Assembly, the implications of the Libya attack, and the promising, if uneven, maturing of the Human Rights Council.